From the January-February 2022 issue of News & Letters
Chicago—Chicago teachers voted overwhelmingly on Jan. 4 to protect students and teachers by returning to remote learning city-wide until Jan. 18 while COVID-19 infections, with the arrival of the Omicron variant, are surging. But then Mayor Lori Lightfoot immediately retaliated by blocking access to teachers’ online portals. Teachers and students agreed to hold classes—“freedom schools”—without her permission or control.
Mayor Lightfoot and her hand-picked Superintendent of Schools Pedro Martinez canceled classes, eventually through Jan. 11, while threatening not to pay teachers in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The administration had set up “random” weekly testing of only those students whose parents had given permission for the test. After CTU officials outlined demands for random testing of more students before returning to in-person learning, the Mayor said, “The CTU isn’t listening.”
LIGHTFOOT OBSTRUCTS UNION
She then channeled right-wing anti-vaxxer talking points, sounding a lot like Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, claiming students were safer in schools because the effect of the Omicron variant on kids was like the flu!
Lightfoot has been calling demands by the teachers an “illegal work stoppage,” thanks to a state law she supports, just as she supports the law that keeps Chicago the only school district in Illinois that is not allowed to elect its school board.
The last CTU “illegal work stoppage,” the 11-day strike in October 2019, punctured Lightfoot’s claims to be a progressive, and forced her to agree to re-staffing nurses and social workers into the schools. Yet she has botched the agreed-upon testing and contact tracing protocols by relying on teams outside the schools controlled at the District level.
The Mayor finally reached agreement with the CTU to return on Jan. 12 for in-person instruction by committing to increasing random testing immediately to 10% of the entire student population each week, on a path toward 100% of students with parental permission to be tested.
Those concessions were not enough for nearly 40% of the union delegates, or 45% of the members, who voted against that deal, or students who marched to City Hall in protest.